Russia firm on its Georgia bases
Russia sounded firm Saturday on the issue of the withdrawal of its military bases in Georgia and warned of tough measures in response to a Georgian ultimatum that threatened sanctions if negotiations fail again to produce a timetable by Sunday.
The sanctions, approved by the Georgian parliament in a March resolution, could include declaring the bases "outside the law'' and denying visas to Russian military personnel. The resolution also demanded financial and ecological damages from Russia that may total hundreds of millions of US dollars.
Speaking on Moscow Echo radio, Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Loshchinin described the ultimatum as "counterproductive."
"An ultimatum is not a language in which one can speak to Russia," Loshchinin was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.
"The resolution of the Georgian parliament provoked a sharp reaction from the Russian parliament and Russia may take rather tough measures," Loshchinin said.
Moscow has agreed to solve the problem in four years, but Tbilisi just does not accept this, Loshchinin said. "We don't intend to hold onto Georgia or remain there," he said.
Russia still has two military bases in Georgia after closing another two under an agreement reached in 1999. Moscow has insisted it needs four years to complete the withdrawal while Tbilisi says it must be finished before January 2008.
Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, approved a nonbinding motion Friday setting forth retaliatory measures against possible Georgian sanctions on Russian bases there.
The motion said if Georgia "outlaws" the Russian military baseson its territory, Russia should recall its ambassador from Tbilisi,stop issuing entry visas to Georgians and expel all Georgian citizens from Russian territory.
Loshchinin's remarks are the latest in a series of warnings from Moscow to react strongly to Georgia unilateral actions as thewar of words between Russia and Georgia grew shriller in recent days.
Georgian parliamentary speaker Nino Burdzhanadze said Thursday if negotiations between the two sides fail to make headway, Georgia's parliament would take action to force the Russian bases to close by Jan. 1, 2006.
Burdzhanadze's ultimatum triggered a strong reaction from Russian officials. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia willnot sit idle if security of its bases in Georgia is threatened.
"If any steps are taken that threaten the bases -- I mean personnel, security
guarantees, not to mention the possibility of weapons getting into foreign hands
-- I assure you we won't remainidle," Lavrov told the State